The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley, reviewed

June 19, 2014, 8:15 PM · ORLANDO — Universal Studios Florida's Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley resets the standard for theme park environments, creating a wildly engaging setting that rewards visitors willing to delve into the abundant detail to be found in the new land.

No other theme park land in the world offers the level of detail Universal Orlando resort has packed into its new Harry Potter-themed land. Not even the original Wizarding World over at Islands of Adventure comes close to Diagon Alley in creating such an authentically convincing experience. As actress Evanna Lynch [Luna Lovegood] noted during this morning's press event, "you don't see roller coaster tracks" in this Harry Potter land. It's a faithful creation of what J.K. Rowling described in her Harry Potter books and creative artists Stuart Craig and Alan Gilmore designed for the Potter films.

Follow me for a tour:

In their conversation about Diagon Alley this morning, the Universal Creative team talked about going beyond the movie design for Diagon Alley to pack in even more detail found in the books. Don't make the mistake of reducing this land to numbers. It's far more than a couple of rides, a restaurant and some shops. Every one of the dozens of facades in Diagon Alley invites you to relive or imagine your own scenes from Rowling's world. It's a land meant to be inhabited, not simply visited. Pay attention to the details, allow your imagination to catch fire, and Diagon Alley will reward you with a trip to a land beyond your imagination. As Matthew Lewis [Neville Longbottom] said, "If we'd have filmed the movie here, we'd all been a lot better. You can't help but get brought into the role."

The Daily Prophet
As a long-time newspaper reporter, of course I had to spend some time outside The Daily Prophet

Borgin and BurkesFans of villains and dark arts will find themselves drawn toward Borgin & Burkes, in Knockturn Alley. Photo courtesy Universal.

Most theme parks find ways to "suggest to express," using tricks such as forced perspectives to make locations seem grander than they are. But there are few such shortcuts here. The ceiling of The Leaky Cauldron restaurant, for example, soars above its customers, a full two stories above our heads.

The Leaky Cauldron

Too often in theme parks, the theme extends only to a restaurant's decor, while the menu sells out to presumed consumer favorites. The original Wizarding World challenged the theme park industry by enforcing its theme in its food and beverage business, even going so far as to banish products from Universal's soft-drink partner from the land. You won't find chicken nuggets and hot dogs on menus in Hogsmeade, either, and you won't find them in Diagon Alley.

Mini-pie combination of Fisherman's and Cottage pies, with a field greens salad for $12.99 at The Leaky Cauldron

Instead, Universal has provided an expanded menu of British pub favorites, including Fisherman's pie, bangers and mash, a Ploughman's platter, and a fanciful collection of new drinks to enjoy.

Fishy Green Ale

Yes, you'll find Butterbeer here, but you'll also find new concoctions such as Fishy Green Ale, a minty beverage with "fish eggs" (a blueberry boba) at the bottom. A fan waiting outside the land asked if the Fishy Green Ale I was carrying had alcohol. It doesn't. My somewhat cynical, yet accurate, rule for deciphering a Wizarding World beverage menu is: If the price of a drink is under five bucks, there's no booze in it.

Golden goblin

Money, of course, plays a prominent role in Diagon Alley. Its centerpiece is a bank, after all. Around the corner from Gringotts Bank, in Carkitt Market, you'll find the Gringotts Money Exchange, where a goblin animatronic behind the counter interacts with guests, answering their questions about the money exchange, where you really can swap your Muggle $10s and $20s for equivalent Gringotts Bank Notes, accepted at stores throughout the Wizarding World (and elsewhere in the Universal Orlando Resort, for that matter.)

Interactive goblin

It's a gimmick Disney tried first more than two decades ago with its Disney Dollars. But it makes far more sense here, as an more authentic element to draw you into the role of a visitor to Diagon Alley. Think of it as cosplay for your wallet.

Yes, there's much for sale here, including the much-hyped $45 interactive wands that trigger animation effects in selected windows here and in Hogsmeade. But I find it richly ironic to hear Disney fans complaining that Diagon Alley's "just" a Harry Potter mall when, with their next breath, they gush about the next upcoming Disney World merchandise event.

Look, people spend money on the stuff they love. Whether it's cars, cosplay, or theme park souvenirs, many of us love to express our passions through purchases. We buy this stuff because we want to feel authentic, and all this stuff around us helps to feel that. Harry Potter fans want their wands, their robes, their house scarves, and their Butterbeers. Universal (or some other theme park company) could have slapped some posters on a wall, piled stock-ordered desks with merchandise, ordered an off-the-shelf ride system with a Harry Potter skin, and raked in the cash.

But Universal didn't do that. Instead of letting us into Harry Potter's world to meet its needs of selling stuff, Universal sells stuff because it met our need to get into Harry Potter's world. Ask the thousands of cosplaying fans who lined up for hours to get into Hogsmeade and who will line up for hours to get into Diagon Alley when it opens officially on July 8. Ask the actors who stand slack-jawed on a Diagon Alley street, awed by the complete physical realization of what their films had tried to portray. There's a magic here in the feeling that Matthew Lewis began to describe, of being in a place that transports your imagination into something it even more easily accepts as reality.

To call this a theme park land diminishes it, for Diagon Alley exceeds anything ever before carrying that label. To fans longing to become part of the stories of their dreams, this is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.


Replies (57)

June 19, 2014 at 8:36 PM

Your move, Avatar Land.

June 19, 2014 at 8:46 PM

Excellent article!

June 19, 2014 at 8:54 PM

Thank you, Robert, for your thorough coverage of Diagon Alley over the past few days both here and on Twitter. I have tried hard not to get too many spoilers, and you have done a fine job of arranging your articles so I can easily skip the things I don't want to know, but still get the gist of your feelings for this expansion.

Overall it looks like WWOHP 2 is exactly what we all expected and hoped it would be four years ago when the rumors of this expansion first started flying. Immersive, narrative, exciting, and true to its source material. While I certainly won't be one of the first to visit the new land I do plan on getting back to Orlando for a visit next year. And I am excited at the prospect of that visit.

June 19, 2014 at 9:08 PM

We're trying. I think the video does a really good job of showing an overview that's pretty spoiler-free, so I hope people spread that around. Thanks for reading, everyone!

June 19, 2014 at 9:16 PM

Excellent article, and I love your enthusiasm in the video! Great job! :D

Wow. The new land just looks unreal. I mean that in as good a way as I could, and I admit one of the things I'm really looking forward to is the train ride. From what I could tell, and from what I've heard, with the screens being removed from the windows to give it more depth, I really hope it delivers on its promise of realistically transporting you from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley or vice versa.

One of my constant nitpicks of EPCOT's Soarin is that the screen is too often dirty, with black flecks that I imagine are birds because I know they're flecks of dirt. One of my great fears is that Universal will let the train screens lapse or deteriorate and the effect will be lessened with time.

But as of right now, this is truly amazing and I couldn't be more excited to get back to Orlando and check it out.

June 19, 2014 at 9:20 PM

I am loving the updates! It has been a whirlwind of information these past few days. Thanks Robert for covering it so thoroughly. Nothing gets me more excited than to hear that a theme park has taken a land, attraction, etc. to another level. Here's hoping and believing that this will be just the beginning of more amazing things to come from our theme parks.

June 19, 2014 at 9:23 PM

In regards to the amount of retail - someone correct me if I'm wrong - but the whole reason Diagon Alley exists and Witches and Wizards go there in the story to buy stuff. The Universal version is really sticking very much true to the story in every way.

June 19, 2014 at 9:29 PM

Love to hear all the great stuff Robert. After this, Kong really has to shine so that it won't seem like Universal hit their peak. I love to just take in sights at parks and Diagon will definitely not disappoint. Sadly, my family (specifically my brother) only sees parks for rides, so it'll be nice to do things at my own pace for a change.

I guess I'll be the first to address it, but $45? Ouch! Unless that price goes down, I'll have no problem watching others wave wands and activate effects (at least until I have a full time job).

And be sure to give Brian kudos from me. I sure wish my video skills were as professional as that. The next generation of TPI is here and I'm liking it.

June 19, 2014 at 10:31 PM

^Agreed. Between the $45 wands and the $40 up-charge to ride the train, my family of five's cost just went through the roof ($85 * 5 people = $425 + tax = YIKES). So, we'll share one wand (taking turns with it, of course), and skip the train entirely (at least until Universal embraces the concept of the round trip). We may be sacrificing a bit in some folks' eyes, but at least we'll have money left over for Butterbeer, Mythos, and Spider-Man T-Shirts!

June 20, 2014 at 12:50 AM

It's not only Robert who is praising Diagon Alley. Every single theme park blogger who was there this week is praising it to the skies. I'm particularly pleased that Universal seem have learnt the lessons of incoherence from Forbidden Journey and crafted a much stronger, coherent narrative. It sounds as if Universal have created the Holy Grail of theme park experiences and I look forward to visiting it in a few year's time when the crowds have died down a bit!

Two questions:

1) A poster above hinted at this but the first question that raises itself to me is 'how will Universal be able to follow this?' And I don't mean just more Harry Potter. But now they've shown us this level of immersion, this level of detail, this level of theming, this amount of CARE in an environment, will everything else they ever do be judged against this? In which case I can't wait for Jurassic Park/Kong/whatever to arrive. But if they don't - if the JP expansion is 'just' as good as, say, Transformers,will they be praised for what would anywhere else be a great attraction or slated for not being as good as we know they can be? So have they created a rod for their own back?

2) By all accounts Diagon Alley is now in a different league to every other attraction in Universal, even Hogsmeade. It's even been said on another blog site that Diagon Alley/Hogsmeade is worth the price of admission on its own - and can keep a family entertained for an entire day. I now find myself wondering whether it's going to overbalance the studios side - creating a theme park within a theme park. When I next ride the Mummy will I be comparing it to HP and thinking 'I used to think this was good but now....?'

These are not criticisms. As I say, Universal has raised the bar for all theme parks. But I can't see them being able to sustain this level of brilliance in everything that follows. Although wouldn't it be fantastic if they did....... I'd pay VERY good money to experience Jurassic Park in the same level of immersive detail as the Wizarding World...

June 20, 2014 at 12:53 AM

@Gabriel Schroll
Universal opted for digital hi-definition projectors for the Gringots ride from the start who are less likely to get dirty or need recalibration then the Imax system Disney uses for their tech demo Soarin (sorry but the ride is a collection of scene's with no transition and not Disney worthy imho). Sure if the Imax projecters are kept in a clean room and maintained well they perform very well like in most cinema's. Clearly Disney doesn't want to spend the money or don't care.
The screens in the Hogwarts Express are also digital and even more advanced but again better build for theme park use.

I was shocked the interactive wands are only $10 more expensive. With the demand on them they could have asked $60 and tell everyone the do it to lower the amount of guests to use it due to congestion but they didn't.

Regarding the extra expense, I don't get it. Go 2 days to Universal, buy a 2 day ticket and you have 2 amazing days and it's cheaper per day then the single day ticket. Why do people complain? O right they only want 1 day to visit the multimillion dollar expansion to run back to Disney to see the same old rides they have seen for many years. Disney is doing the same, if I only want to ride their e-ticket rides I need to buy a 1 day hopper to ride Splash, Test track, the broken Yeti and Tower of Terror. They both do the same, no problem, right?

June 20, 2014 at 1:02 AM

One further question.

The pictures I have seen so far don't seem to show riders on the Gringott's Ride wearing 3D glasses, yet I keep hearing that it's a 3-D attraction. Does anyone know whether we have to wear glasses or whether they have somehow managed the 3D without the need for them?

June 20, 2014 at 4:17 AM

@david The ride is 3d. Pictures I've seen and descriptions show that people pick the glasses up after the elevator ride..

Also in regards to your theming question, we have already seen universal step up their theming and immersion game. Just last year they revamped the Simpsons area to be a more cohesive and immersive full land, giving us duff gardens, moes, a new spinner etc, as well as many little Easter eggs of sorts in tribute to the Simpsons. Now we have diagon, I expect this trend to continue with their future projects

June 20, 2014 at 5:30 AM

@O T Paint it any color you like, or spread the days around any way you want, but $485 + tax is $485 + tax, and $485 + tax is a big chunk of a vacation budget. For reference, $400 is enough money for my whole family to visit Busch Gardens Tampa for two days. Knowing this fact, and because I have some fiscal restraint, I have to make a choice. Do I spend two days at a high quality thrill park with a half dozen world class coaster experiences, or do I buy a wand and ride a train?

So, I'll do the 2 days at Universal as you suggested (maybe even four days if you don't mind), but I'll buy single park tickets and skip some of the miscellaneous HP related expenditures. Now, my $485 + tax can be a bit more wisely spent, and now my family can experience some of the other excellent thrills central Florida has to offer.

As for me "complaining" about the prices, I really am only "complaining" about the up-charge on the train. If Universal wasn't trying to gouge the customer (another lesson they seemed to have learned from Disney) they would offer a round trip option for one-park-per-day guests. And I am sure that when the crowds stabilize as the newness wears off, Universal will make the right choice. I can wait. I am a patient man. Besides, I can always ride Spider-Man or Mummy one more time instead!

June 20, 2014 at 6:13 AM

Robert, do you think Diagon Alley will cause Universal Studios Florida to pass Islands of Adventure in attendance?

June 20, 2014 at 6:21 AM

Excellent Job Robert...(And Brian)..

I was a little nervous when you disappeared into the wall... Glad to see you are OK....

I bet Your son was going nuts there....

June 20, 2014 at 6:48 AM

I was just wondering how it felt to be walking through something that you broke the news about years ago? Robert, you have been all over this story, and have done a wonderful job covering it. Thank you for this review, and for all the work you did leading up to this.

Also, on the ticket thing, I pretty much expect that Universal will phase out the single park tickets over time (which, of course, will be a price increase to anyone just wanting to do 1 park.) It sucks, but they are gonna have to make money off of this (and a lot of it.)

June 20, 2014 at 6:53 AM

NOOOOOO!!! Do not start the price of Universal "upcharge" augment with James again. James has already made it clear he does not mind paying Disneyland's $178 two day base ticket but will not be paying Universal's $177 two day park hopper. So no need to start that up again. :)

But anyways Diagon Alley looks AMAZING! I am really hoping that Universal has a AP preview so maybe I can get in there before the July 8th craziness starts.

Robert any word if there will be express pass for Gringotts?

June 20, 2014 at 7:14 AM

It looks absolutely phenomenal. When WWOHP opened we waited a year, stayed onsite and went -- it was still so incredibly crowded that it was difficult to spend the time to truly appreciate the level of detail that went into the land and therefore, it felt less immersive. That is my fear with Diagon Alley. When it is shoulder to shoulder Muggles as far as the eye can see, who will be able to truly appreciate the magic? I'll get slammed for saying it, but I really feel as though this (and the orginal Hogsmede for that matter) should have been a reservations only attraction and crowds limited to a certain number of patrons per hour to maintain the atmosphere they have worked so hard to create. As cool as your video looked, that isn't how the land is going to be experienced by those of us who visit after July 8th. Instead it will be hours of waiting, bustling, and pushing. Not saying I won't be among those waiting, bustling, and pushing Muggles... I will (in a year or two), but I'll be wishing that I had a spell to clear the way for a few minutes!

June 20, 2014 at 7:17 AM

Entry into Diagon Alley will be by reservation only, with return times available from machines near Men in Black.

June 20, 2014 at 7:58 AM

This looks incredible! I can't wait to get there (it may be a few years), and I really hope this pushes Disney to take their own shot at doing something amazing. If not, I expect that Universal will keep pushing the envelope. Either way, we win.

June 20, 2014 at 8:14 AM

Awesome job, Universal! Here's hoping the two Universal parks finally overtake Epcot, AK, and HS in attendance. We need to reward the parks that invest in new attractions!

June 20, 2014 at 8:16 AM

@Brent Your post is simply not true. Please find one example of when I wrote that I would ever go to a Disney Resort for ONLY two days. That's crazy talk, brother.

June 20, 2014 at 8:52 AM

Hi I'm going here under the vacation package so I'll be in the park July 1st. My question is how much do other things cost in diagon alley? For example how much is the wizard robes or regular wand etc, just I have no idea how much money I'm going to need to bring.
And do they sell things like the chess set from the website.

June 20, 2014 at 8:54 AM

I wonder if Diagon Alley will ever arrive at USH. Maybe it will only be exclusive at Orlando.

June 20, 2014 at 8:56 AM

Sorry James your right but I thought I was giving the you benefit of the doubt because if you start comparing 4 day tickets it gets worse for Disneyland. $250 for a 4 day base ticket compared to $196 for a 4 day park hopper to Universal. And Disneyland may have more total rides than Universal does but in my opinion they don't have any more E-ticket rides than Universal does.

Keep in mind James I am not at all bashing what you are doing fanatically at all. I understand the need to save money, but to say that Universal is price gouging I just feel is unfair when you compare to Disney's prices for parks, food, hotel, merchandise, ext. I have annual passes to both Disney World and Universal and I love both places, but I defiantly feel it in my wallet a lot more on the days we go to Disney rather than when we go to Universal. Plus James you are one of my favorites on here because we share a love for SDC! :)

June 20, 2014 at 1:40 PM

Four days at WDW... perish the thought. My last visit we got ten day tickets, I can't imagine staying for less than seven days.

More importantly, if you reread my post carefully you'll see I derided both Universal AND Disney for price gouging.

June 20, 2014 at 9:11 AM

I was comparing ticket prices to Disneyland not Disneyworld because I knew you had gone there recently and I also think Disneyland and Universal Orlando compare better anyways. Plus a 4 day base to Disneyworld is much higher than $250.

June 20, 2014 at 9:19 AM

You should not compare Disneyland and Universal Orlando. It makes no sense. The Orlando and Southern California markets are completely different.

When you compare Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood, the difference is so much more clear. For one day at Disneyland, you get a full year at USH.

June 20, 2014 at 11:31 AM

@Brent I got the five day, one-park-per-day ticket for DLR....about $50/day. Regardless, one does not go to Disney or Universal to save money, but some of us have to make hard choices to maximize the fun and minimize the gouging.

@Anon, there's not enough to do at USH for one day, let alone a whole year!

June 20, 2014 at 9:45 AM

@ David Brown I think you make great points about Universal setting the bar high...even for themselves. It will no doubt be tough for them to top Diagon Alley (although I hope they do and continue with this level of detail). But I must say that I love this competition between Disney and Universal (or even the competition to top their own selves) because it only makes experiences better for us, the customers. We are starting to see some incredible things that I never thought would come to life and it's truly amazing!

June 20, 2014 at 9:48 AM

@ Robert Niles or anyone - Could you please explain to me how the reservation system works for Diagon Alley? The last time I was at Universal was before Hogsmeade opened. Are there time limits? Will it always be reservation based? Thank you!

June 20, 2014 at 11:33 AM

Universal's set up machines over by Men in Black. They will work like the old Disney Fastpass machines -- you put in your ticket and it spits back a slip of paper with your return time to Diagon Alley. At your return time, you'll enter the line near the Fear Factor theater for entry into Diagon Alley.

Universal hotel guests will get early access before the park opens, and I suspect that the timed entry system will last as long as Universal deems it necessary to keep the crowd levels manageable.

June 20, 2014 at 11:42 AM

I don't understand this upcharge for the train. Universal has always said that you can only ride the train if you have a park-to-park ticket. Now that's not good enough, you also need to pony up an extra $40??

June 20, 2014 at 11:45 AM

^There is no upcharge. Some people just see needing park to park as an upcharge itself compared to base tickets. If you have park to park, you'll get on for free.

June 20, 2014 at 12:10 PM

Yeah, I'm not sure as to why it is being called an upcharge. Just get a two-park ticket and experience both parks over two days.

I also don't understand the concern for the new standard that Universal is setting. Would it be better if Universal created average attractions so that they could always top it?

June 20, 2014 at 12:24 PM

Robert, can you confirm or offer any insight into whether the Express pass will be available right away for Gringotts and/or the Hogwarts Express?

June 20, 2014 at 12:35 PM

I now see why the entry / exit to Kings Cross is not inside DA, but on the "river bank". Everyone would be jumping on the train from the less crowded IOA to get directly into DA.

The opening of DA has been the most hyped (theme park) event I have witnessed. Week long broadcasts of Jimmy Fallon at Universal, and every theme park web site scrambling to convey the latest news and reveals.

The original WWoHP had a great grand opening event, but this is unreal. I have to say, Robert's coverage has nothing less than amazing. I am sooooo hyped for this because of TPI.

June 20, 2014 at 12:46 PM

I was also wondering one more thing... and this is not a jab at Disney... Do you think there are Disney people attending this event by one means or another to get a good look at the level of detail and see what they are up against?

This is why I still don't understand Avatar or Star Wars expansions. One movie had lush colorful forests and the huge tree, but no real way to tie in all of these additions like the shops and stores from the HP movies.

Any concrete in Avatar Land would totally throw off the illusion.

Then there is Star Wars. What do you base it on? Tatooine? Death Star? That futuristic city in Attack of the Clones? I just don't understand it. Maybe something completely new from the upcoming movies? That would really tick off the Star Wars purists who grew up with the original three in the 80's who are not fond of Episodes 1-3.

Cars Land was brilliant. All sorts of possibilities for merch tie-ins, shops, restaurants, and a ride through Radiator Springs, etc...

Why, oh why Disney did you pass on HP? I for one am glad they did....

June 20, 2014 at 12:59 PM

OK James, thanks for the clarification above.

June 20, 2014 at 1:09 PM

@NB: Yes, Disney will see it. You kidding me? Like they can't afford to buy a ticket and just visit the thing.

You want Avatar to look like HP in concept? What nonsense is that?

Star Wars will not be like HP (in concept) either, but Star Wars has it's own following that exceeds the fanaticism of Harry Potter fans.

You keep talking about "stores" and now "stores" is the standard that Disney should do now. How ridiculous. Disney will capitalize on the merchandising of Avatar and Star Wars, but it will be different than HP.

The concrete in Avatar will be hidden in the foliage. What do you think that big tree in Animal Kingdom is made of?

I am sure Star Wars will mainly comprise of Episodes 4 to 6, but include 1 - 3, and maybe a bit of the new trilogy. So what about the purists? I don't care. They already ruined it with the parodies, thus they are the problem.

June 20, 2014 at 3:08 PM

N B, I am sure Disney and Universal (and SeaWorld) all visit each others' parks. They'd be foolish not to. I know Tony Baxter (retired Imagineer par excellence) spoke very highly of his visit to WWOHP.

@Questions relating to the term "up-charge" where the new train is concerned: "up-charge" simply means, "an additional charge". If you buy multi-day, one-park tickets at Universal, you do not have access to the new train ride because Universal has decided not to offer a round trip option. Therefore, you must buy a park to park ticket which is "an additional charge". It similar to the up-charge to ride a sky coaster, the go-carts, or climb a rock wall at your local Six Flags. If you traditionally buy park to park tickets, no big deal (although the price did go up with this expansion). However, if you do not traditionally buy park to park tickets, you either skip the ride or pony up "an additional charge". For a family of five that up-charge is $200 (not sure if it includes tax or not).

I completely understand what Universal is doing, and I understand why. I get it, I really do. I just don't like it. Seems to me the smart folks at Universal Creative could have developed a more equitable solution for all Universal fans.

The horse is dead. I am done talking about it and done detracting from an otherwise excellent new themed expansion.

June 20, 2014 at 2:30 PM

Disney does not upcharge to use the transportation system if you park hop or visit the resorts. I wonder if they can consider such an option to prevent people who are not resort guests or don't have the park hopping option to use the transportation system. It would seem like a logical solution to the loophole, but this will require changes to ticket policy and require the bus/monorail operators to verify everyone's pass or magicband.

My feeling is Universal has every right to do this new thing. I don't consider it an upcharge since this ride is considered a park hopping ride. It's an entirely new category. It's an innovation. It encourages guests to visit both parks. It also alleviates congestion at the entrances. Why not bypass the entrance gates?

I can imagine Disneyland in Anaheim doing the same thing to transfer to DCA via the monorail.

June 20, 2014 at 2:46 PM

I guess my point was HP is a perfect vessel for a theme park land. They have faithfully re-created an entire movie set which also lends itself to integrating shops and restaurants seamlessly with hundreds of merchandise possibilities.

I was wondering if there are any Disney higher ups at these media events. I know they can buy a ticket after the grand opening like anyone else.

June 20, 2014 at 2:45 PM

It looks amazing. Thanks Robert.
I think both places are expensive but Disneyland for example is better for the little kids. I am taking my almost 2 year old to Disneyland and the amount of little kid rides he can do is amazing. On the other hand Universal is better for older kids and adults, more for them to do. Same with WDW.

June 20, 2014 at 3:28 PM

It's a super simple concept folks. This is not an up-charge like you have to pay to ride go-karts at Six Flags. Because the Hogwarts Express takes you from one park to another, you must be in possession of a two park ticket. Disney transportation does takes you from park to park for free, but you are not inside the parks. It would be sort of like going for a ride on the Disneyland Monorail from DTD without a ticket and expecting to get off in Tomorrowland for a free visit to DL.
You can upgrade your one park ticket at either train station which then gives you access to The Hogswart's Express. An up-charge would imply you are only getting to ride one limited capacity attraction, i.e. a Go-Kart or a Sky Coaster. What Universal is doing is offering the ability up upgrade a one day one park ticket to something much more valuable inside the park rather than at a traditional gate. Part of owning that kind of ticket is getting access to The Hogwart's Express railroad attraction.
I really hope this clears some of this up.

June 20, 2014 at 3:45 PM

I just really want to be able to go on the Hogwarts Express without buying a park-hopper ticket. There is just too much to do in each of the Universal theme parks for me to want to go to the other on the same day.

June 20, 2014 at 4:53 PM

Use of the word "upcharge" had me worried too, because my understanding was that it was just a requirement for a two-park-same-day ticket and access Hogsmeade-Diagon bypassing the main gate. I'd call it an "up-sell" rather than an upcharge.
To passholders, it won't make a difference. Indeed, it makes more sense to have the power pass vs a couple of days of two-park tickets. In the block-out date, it'll be too crowded to enjoy anyway!

June 20, 2014 at 7:01 PM

I think Diagon Alley USF will be better then Harry Potter in IOA and I am looking forward to the new roller coaster I just hope it's like the mummy

June 20, 2014 at 9:35 PM

Such stunning craftsmanship and artistry on display here by Universal Creative. Anybody who thinks the mouse isn't taking notice, or doesn't feel the slightest bit shown up by such an unveiling is fooling themselves. I could only hope it lights a fire over at WDW and they decide to open Avatar in one grand spectacle like Diagon, instead of the lame phased approach, as well as open up the money faucet and allow the imagineers to go hog wild over at DHS with Star Wars Land. Bravo're a modern day theme park company Uncle Walt would actually be proud of for pushing the limits.

June 21, 2014 at 6:38 AM

As to the "upcharge." I am in it for the full experience, so my family will not go until we can afford to stay on site with the express passes. When we go, we are all in. Also, the park hopper makes a lot of sense due to how close the parks are.

Second, as to what else Universal can do: Bring the House of Horrors to Orlando. It was the most fun I had at Hollywood. From what I saw, it was the most fun others had as well. Obviously, it might not sit well with parents of young children, as it is very scary, but it would not be too expensive to make and is a blast.

June 21, 2014 at 8:42 AM

I have a couple of thoughts about Diagon Alley and TPI.

First of all, it is amazing how TPI has grown and changed over the years. Before 1999, if you wanted to read and share your opinions about theme parks and theme park rides, you were largely limited to the saccharine sweet Disney fan sites where "Cinderella Girl" and her friends shared their thoughts about whether Sleeping Beauty looked better in blue or pink, or you were relegated to the roller coaster fan sites where the discussions centered around pulling Gs and getting airtime and whether Magic Mountain was better than Cedar Point. Nothing wrong with those discussions if that is your thing, but thanks to TPI and a few other thoughtful sites, we now get some real topics to discuss.

So, thanks Robert, for 15 years of TPI and the excellent articles, discussion forums, and inside information that you've given us. You earned the right to break the Diagon Alley story by being fair and honest throughout the years to all of the players in the amusement and theme park industry. The excellent video that you just provided us about the opening of Diagon Alley is just the tip of the iceberg in years of hard work. Congratulations!

Secondly, congratulations and thanks to the Universal Creative team and the NBC/Universal/Comcast management team. Back when Islands of Adventure opened up, it was apparent that greater things were possible and yet to come, but with with the right creative and management team a new paradigm has been established in the theme park industry. Many of us have been predicting this for years, but with the opening of Diagon Alley, Universal Orlando has become the measuring stick for high tech rides and immersive lands, and provides the best value for a theme park vacation in Orlando.

TPI and Universal Orlando - flying under the radar for years, but now getting their just due for providing high quality entertainment to the theme park enthusiast community!

June 21, 2014 at 8:52 AM

Also seen on Fox35 that at launch you will only be able to travel one way on the Hogwarts express per day so you will have to visit twice to experience both journeys only for a while until the crowds get smaller

June 21, 2014 at 10:36 AM

I hope the ride will not break down all the time like the Harry potter ride in IOA.

June 22, 2014 at 6:23 PM

While I'm not a big fan of HP, this is exciting to see, because it takes the parks to another level. Honestly, for me, I want to see a scale Beauty and the Beast Castle. I WANT to go to the west wing, to eat in the dining room or ballroom. I want to go into the library. Disney has done alot in NF, but I want to see something big. Anpther idea is to do the mythical kingdom idea in AK. I'm just not that excited anout Avatar.

June 23, 2014 at 6:13 PM

Great article. I do think Disney will get some benefits from this: I'll be going in July to Orlando, because of Diagon Alley, but of course I'll go to WDW once I'm in Orlando...

I have to point out that you said "Universal (or some other theme park company) could have slapped some posters on a wall, piled stock-ordered desks with merchandise, ordered an off-the-shelf ride system with a Harry Potter skin, and raked in the cash.", and no, they coulnd't have. J.K. Rowling would never have allowed that to happen. Ever. She was very specific in that regard.

June 24, 2014 at 2:18 PM

Look I always buy the park to park tickets. It is really no that much of a difference since I always go for three days anyway. Honestly Universal has a lot to offer and this was a big investment for them. If it were my park I would do something to discourage the family that wants only to see the new Expansion then spend the rest of their time at Disney. Disney does the same with their magic your way tickets or whatever they are called. When you go to Orlando just accept the fact you are not going to spean a week there and be able to see everything you want. I get that people want to be able to hit only the higlights from each park but that is unrealistic and honestly if you focus on a couple of park a trip you will have a much better time.

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